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The Jury's Secret

The Jury's Secret(1938)

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When four hundred people die in a flood in Midland City, corrupt tycoon and phony philanthropist Brandon Williams, who has a daily newspaper column, encourages the citizens to remain stalwart and rebuild their city. William Sheldon, the self-appointed spokesperson for the lowland dwellers, who have repeatedly been the victims of floods due to government neglect, gives a speech condemning Williams' duplicitous attitude toward the people and his manipulations of city politicians. Aware that Williams is leaving town to escape the disaster mayhem, Bill publicly declares that unless Williams advocates a flood control bill, he won't be allowed to leave town. Williams, meanwhile, decides to continue his daily morale-boosting editorials while on his trip, but his ghost writer, Walter Russell, a failed novelist whom Williams has paid amply through the years, refuses to write for him any longer. Williams plans to recoup his million-dollar flood losses by instigating a panic on Midland stock, thereby bankrupting thousands of Midland citizens. Aware that Russell is heavily invested in Midland stock, Williams tries to blackmail him into remaining in his employ, but Russell stabs and kills him with a letter opener. Bill then comes to visit Williams and, denied entry by the butler, enters through the library terrace and finds Williams dead. The butler assumes Bill is the murderer, and Bill is arrested. While on his way out of town, Russell hears about the arrest and returns to Midland. Linda Ware, a Midland native who is now a journalist in New York, is sent to Midland to cover the murder trial, which has made national headlines. Years before, Linda and Russell were in love and he dedicated his first novel to her with the phrase, "I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov'd I not honor more." Once reunited, they discover they are still in love, but while they plan a honeymoon trip, Russell receives a jury summons for Bill's trial. Linda convinces Russell it is his duty to serve, especially as public opinion has already deemed Bill guilty. Bill's mother and girl friend, meanwhile, have hired noted lawyer John Morrow, who senses that Russell will be the dissenting juror who will save Bill. The trial proves a travesty of justice. The judge is preoccupied with his upcoming fishing trip, while the jurors declare Bill guilty from the start. On the last day of the trial, the prosecutor plays for the court a recording of Williams' last editorial, and Linda recognizes Russell's voice on the tape. After twenty hours of deliberation, the jury is deadlocked and a new trial is set for the following week. Although Russell is relieved to have done his part in saving Bill, Linda points out that Morrow has quit the case and Bill will most likely be found guilty. When she sees a dictaphone in his apartment, Linda verifies with Russell's butler that Russell was Williams' ghost writer and is now sure he is the killer. Hoping to appeal to Russell's sense of honor, Linda leaves her glove on top of the dedication page to his novel and says goodbye to him. At 8:10, from a train bound for New York, Linda writes a telegram to her editor that, at 8:15, Walter Russell confessed to the murder of Brandon Williams.